How you store your dried herbs is incredibly important. If stored incorrectly, they quickly lose potency – which makes them less effective (or useless) in medicinal preparations. In this post, I’ll share my advice for storing dried herbs in Mason jars.
Herb Storage Guidelines
No matter how you store your herbs, follow these basic guidelines to ensure the longest possible shelf life:
- Store away from direct sunlight – in a dark, cool place if possible.
- Store away from heat sources such as the kitchen stove or heater vents.
- Choose a cabinet or shelf in your pantry, closet, basement, garage, utility room, etc.
Exposure to bright light, heat, moisture, and air quickly degrade even the most potent herbs. But you don’t have to store them in complete darkness. I keep many of my herbs on a high shelf above my kitchen table.
To keep your dried herbs as fresh as possible, just make sure they aren’t being hit by direct sunlight and they aren’t in an area that gets too hot. That should be enough to keep them fresh for a year or two – depending on the herb.
Herb Storage Containers
Mason jars are ideal for storing dried medicinal herbs because they have air-tight lids, but you can use any type of glass container with a tight-fitting lid.
I have a variety of glass cannisters that I’ve purchased second-hand from thrift stores, garage sales, and estate sales. If you have a Goodwill Outlet store near you, this is a great place to find glass jars and cannisters for incredibly cheap.
Mason jars are typically inexpensive even when purchased brand new. At the time of this writing, I can purchase a case of 12 quart-sized jars for about $14. But buying used can save you even more money, especially as your herb collection grows.
You can also recycle food jars that once held peanut butter, pasta sauce, pickles, etc. Just make sure to wash them out thoroughly before adding your dried herbs.
Avoid storing herbs in plastic or paper long-term. In my experience, herbs retain their healing properties best (and longest) when stored in glass Mason jars. If you can find dark-colored glass jars, these are even better because they block out more light. But clear jars work just fine too.
Mason Jar Sizes
What size Mason jars do you need to store your herbs?
Well, that depends – on the herb and the amount of it you have. In the picture below, all three of these containers hold 2 ounces of herbs. The valerian root is heavier than the catnip leaf on the end.
Two ounces of root may only fill a small jar while 2 ounces of leaves may fill a larger one. If you’re just starting to build your herbal apothecary, I recommend getting at least three sizes of jars:
- 8 ounces (half-pint sized)
- 16 ounces (pint sized)
- 32 ounces (quart sized)
If you start by buying one or two ounces of each herb, these sizes will serve you well. If you plan to buy or dry a LOT of any one specific herb (four ounces or more), you may need some half-gallon sized jars too.
After you’ve been practicing herbalism for a while and gathering storage containers, you should build up a nice collection of various size jars.
Storing Dried Herbs in Mason Jars
When buying herbs online from shops like Mountain Rose Herbs and Rosemary’s Garden, they typically come packaged in plastic or rice paper bags.
As soon as possible after purchasing or receiving your herbs, transfer them to clean, dry Mason jars. Make sure there is no moisture at ALL in the jars or around the lid. Moisture will ruin your dried herbs.
You may want to use a wide-mouth funnel (canning funnel) to transfer your herbs into jars. But you can also just open the bag and dump your herbs right in. (That’s what I do!) Just expect you may spill some over the sides if you aren’t careful.
Label your herb jars with common name and botanical name if you like. I personally only add the common name. I use a roll of brown kraft labels I bought on Amazon before I boycotted them. But you can use any labels you have. You can even tape a piece of paper on if you need to. It doesn’t have to be fancy – just functional.
All dried herbs have a shelf life, which is usually one to three years when stored properly (in glass Mason jars in a cool, dark place). Shelf life depends on the individual herb, of course, but here are some general guidelines:
- Leaves and Flowers – One to two years
- Roots and Bark – Two to three years
I try not to buy more dried herbs than I could reasonably use within a year, just to be safe. But sometimes life happens and I end up with herbs that are past their expiration date.
How can you tell if dried herbs have gone bad?
The only way herbs truly go bad is if they’re exposed to moisture and become moldy. Otherwise, they simply lose their potency over time. Use your senses to tell you if quality has diminished. Here’s what to look for:
- COLOR – Good quality dried herbs should be brightly colored and vivid, not gray and lifeless. Of course, this depends on the herb itself and its original coloring. A good rule of thumb is leaves and blossoms should be very close to the same color they were when fresh.
- SMELL – Dried herbs should smell fresh and strong. Each herb has its own unique odor, but it should be distinct and prominent. Some herbs smell mild and hay-like, while others smell incredibly pungent – think valerian root that smells like dirty laundry.
- TASTE – Just like with smell, good quality fresh herbs taste strong and fresh. If you make an infusion and there’s very little taste, the herbs are probably past their prime. Every herb tastes different, but the taste should be distinct.
If you’ve determined an herb has lost its vitality, dispose of it in a compost pile, scatter outdoors on the ground, or simply place in the garbage where it will eventually be returned to the earth.
One method of monitoring the age of your dried herbs is to write the date of purchase directly on the jar label. I personally don’t do this because I like to refill my herbs throughout the year, and I don’t want to rewrite the label each time.
Instead, I keep an herb journal where I document my herb purchases. I write down the following information:
- Name of herb
- Date purchased
- Price paid
- Amount purchased
I assign a new page to each herb in my herbal apothecary and add a new entry each time I purchase herbs.
I do the same thing for herbs that I grow and dry myself. Instead of writing the date purchased, I simply write the date the herbs were fully dried and transferred into jars.
Now I can just look in my notebook to find the age of a particular jar of herbs. This might be too much hassle for some people, but I love keeping up with my herbs in a journal. If that doesn’t appeal to you, simply write the date directly on the label instead.
The important thing is to document the age of your herbs somehow. Choose a method that works best for you.
One of the keys to being an effective herbalist is using high-quality herbs in all your formulations. In order to keep your dried herbs fresh, preserve their quality, and extend their shelf life, don’t forget these rules:
- Store dried herbs in glass Mason jars with airtight lids in a cool, dark place away from heat, light, and moisture.
- Label your herbs immediately after transferring to jars, and document the date purchased or dried on the label itself or in an herb journal.
- Store for one to three years, depending on the type of herb. Use color, smell, and taste to determine if an herb has lost its essence.